Why Our Expectations of Child Sleep are Wrong

What do you expect of your child’s sleep?

Most expectations centre around the idea of a 7pm bedtime and 7am wake time. After all, children need twelve hours sleep per night don’t they? By the end of the first year, certainly most experts and guidelines suggest that this is the case.

While most parents expect newborns to wake regularly at night, the most prevailing belief is that by six months babies should be ‘sleeping through’ and have learnt the skill of ‘self soothing’. Most experts and even healthcare professionals believe that night feeds post six months are not only unnecessary, but problematic, and many parents are encouraged to drop them as soon as possible. All of this is incorrect.


In fact almost everything we believe about baby and child sleep is wrong, including guidelines and advice published on the NHS website. The most commonly held beliefs about baby and child sleep in society today are ill advised, opinion rather than evidence based and often at odds with the child’s development. As a parent you can feel like a failure if your child is still feeding at night or not sleeping for the requisite twelve hours. If there is any failure however it lays firmly at the feet of the experts and organisations who publish this outdated advice.

How should children sleep?

One important fact to get straight first of all is that nobody sleeps through the night, not even adults. An average adult will go through around six sleep cycles per night and could wake between every one of them. An average baby however will experience around twelve to fifteen sleep cycles, with the possibility of waking between every one. It takes until around seven years of age until ‘self soothing’ is possible when the area in the brain for regulating emotions becomes fairly well developed. The average bedtime for a baby or toddler is in fact around 8 to 8:30pm! Night feeds are common well into the second year of life and night waking does not become uncommon until after the child turns two.

No wonder over 60% of parents claim their child has a sleep problem if our expectations are so out of line with reality!

In my new book ‘The Gentle Sleep Book‘, out today, I set the record straight about what to realistically expect of your child’s sleep and how to change it – gently.


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